In Paris With You by James Fenton

Don’t talk to me of love. I’ve had an earful
And I get tearful when I’ve downed a drink or two.
I’m one of your talking wounded.
I’m a hostage. I’m maroonded.
But I’m in Paris with you.

Yes I’m angry at the way I’ve been bamboozled
And resentful at the mess I’ve been through.
I admit I’m on the rebound
And I don’t care where are we bound.
I’m in Paris with you.

Do you mind if we do not go to the Louvre
If we say sod off to sodding Notre Dame,
If we skip the Champs Elysées
And remain here in this sleazy

Old hotel room
Doing this and that
To what and whom
Learning who you are,
Learning what I am.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris,
The little bit of Paris in our view.
There’s that crack across the ceiling
And the hotel walls are peeling
And I’m in Paris with you.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris.
I’m in Paris with the slightest thing you do.
I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth,
I’m in Paris with… all points south.
Am I embarrassing you?
I’m in Paris with you.

Fenton’s poem ‘In Paris With You’ ultimately illustrates the very human methods we use to try to repair a broken heart – specifically ‘the rebound.’ In humanity’s incessant need to be needed and wanted, we can turn to superficial non-relationships that we believe to have no consequences, in order to ‘get over’ a previous love or relationship. In using colloquial language, as evident in the first stanza: ‘when I’ve downed a drink or two’ and consistently maintaining this informal tone throughout the poem, Fenton juxtaposes the elegance and serenity of Paris with very informal and crude language such as ‘sod’ and ‘sodding.’ The speaker also reflects the cynical outlook upon the traditional romantic connotations of Paris through literally suggesting that they and their liaison disregard the monumental landmarks of the ‘city of love’; claiming that they should ‘say sod off to the sodding Notre Dame / … skip the Champs Elysées / and remain here in this sleazy / old hotel room.’ The speaker covertly suggests that this relationship – being a self-professed ‘rebound’ – is purely focused upon sex, wanting to avoid the commitment and responsibility that comes hand in hand with long-term relationships.

The speaker claims that they are angry at the way [they’ve] been bamboozled / And resentful at the mess [they’ve]  been through’, thus implying that they have experienced a negative and ‘messy’ break-up. Their lack of elaboration further intensifies their clear resentment and we are likely to assume that this ‘rebound’ is an attempt to remedy the speaker’s broken heart; they don’t want to talk about love any more, they’ve ‘had an earful’ already. Paris is in fact literal in the sense that the speaker has presumably taken a trip to Paris to escape the woes of their recent break-up; ‘I’m in Paris with you’, but he wishes to shut himself away from the city also. He wishes to disregard everything that Paris has to offer as a city and wants to remain in a hotel room, with only a ‘little bit of Paris in our view’; the speaker can see reality, but does not want to be in its midst.

The final stanza serves to ultimately confirm the speaker’s superficial motives with this partner who is in Paris with them. Fenton illustrates this through having the speaker concentrate upon the physical nature of their new partner, ‘I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth.’ The speaker has no interest in their ‘rebound’s’ personality, they are ultimately a tool to repairing the speaker’s loneliness and broken heart; which ostensibly seems rather antagonistic, but really gives the speaker a sense of humanity. Fenton reinforces the humanity of the speaker through their crudeness; ‘I’m in Paris with…all points south / am I embarrassing you?’; physical affection is all the speaker feels like they need, they need to feel wanted and heal the wound of a broken heart.

James Fenton (1949-)

James Fenton (1949-)

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Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face by Jack Prelutsky

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.

Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.

Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.

Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place–
be glad your nose is on your face!

Prelutsky’s humorous ‘Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face’, being aimed at children, follows the simplistic ABAB rhyme scheme, and using a simplistic lexis to follow suit. The message of the poem itself is also rather elementary; be grateful for what you have, and be aware that changing these things could bring about disastrous consequences. Through using the nose as a metaphor for something that we have in our lives,Prelutsky is able to illustrate that if our noses were in any other place it would not benefit us at all. He describes our noses as being ‘precious’ and important, and humorously places it in the most peculiar places around the body; the feet, the head and the ear.Prelutsky’s placing of the nose as being ‘sandwiched in between your toes’ evokes both an image of comedy and also discomfort at the thought of being ‘forced to smell your feet.’ This constant state of discomfort ultimately points out to the young reader – in a covert fashion of course – that changing the position of something so important could hold very irreversible consequences, so we should be grateful for the things we have got, and not seek out to change things that are perfectly good as they are.Prelutsky’s poem shows the reader that it is sometimes easy to overlook some of the positive things in our lives, and it is also very easy to concentrate on the negative facets of these things. The desire to change things can often be overwhelming, butPrelutsky goes on to give further examples of the consequences of change. He claims that if our noses were on our heads then it ‘would drive [us] to despair, / forever tickled by [our] hair’, a parallel to the discomfort of positioning a nose between toes on the foot. This is continued again in the third stanza, in which the nose has been placed within the ear and this is described as being ‘an absolute catastrophe’, and that the ‘brain would rattle’ whenever we sneezed.Prelutsky comes to, in the final stanza, the very same conclusion that was stated at the beginning of the poem; that you should ‘be glad your nose is on your face!’, it can be dangerous to attempt to change something that was perfectly fine to begin with.

Jack Prelutsky (1940-)

Jack Prelutsky (1940-)

 

 

Spinster by Sylvia Plath

Now this particular girl
During a ceremonious April walk
With her latest suitor
Found herself, of a sudden, intolerably struck
By the birds irregular babel
And the leaves’ litter.

By this tumult afflicted, she
Observed her lover’s gestures unbalance the air,
Her gait stray uneven
Through a rank wilderness of fern and flower.
She judged petals in disarray,
The whole season, sloven.

How she longed for winter then! –
Scrupulously austere in its order
Of white and black
Ice and rock, each sentiment in border,
And heart’s frosty discipline
Exact as a snowflake.

But here – a burgeoning
Unruly enough to pitch her five queenly wits
Into vulgar motley –
A treason not to be borne. Let idiots
Reel giddy in bedlam spring:
She withdrew neatly.

And round her house she set
Such a barricade of barb and check
Against mutinous weather
As no mere insurgent man could hope to break
With curse, fist, threat
Or love, either.

 

Plath’s 1956 poem ‘Spinster’ serves to juxtapose the order and disarray of the natural world with the anxiety to maintain control. The persona in ‘Spinster’ – as is evident by the name – exists in a state in which men are not to be depended on, furthering the interpretation that ‘this particular girl’ wants to have autonomous control over her own life; without being dictated to by a man. The use of the word ‘ceremonious’ in the first stanza implicates heavy connotations of both the prospect of marriage and also structure and uniform, the ‘suitor’ that walks with her is clearly somebody that this girl is expected to marry. But the presence of disorder in their environment clamps the girl’s attentions, with the ‘birds’ irregular babel / and the leaves litter’; the word ‘litter’ erasing the usual connotations of nature’s beauty, portraying it as a mess and not at is should be.

The persona’s sterile detachment from the ‘suitor’ she walks with is truly confirmed in the second stanza. She ‘observed her lover’s gestures’, the verb ‘observed’ reminiscent of a scientist looking on at some lab-rat experiment, even Plath’s description of him as a ‘suitor’ depersonalizes his character. He poses no significance to the persona, she has no emotional ties to him; he is her ‘latest suitor’, implying that there have been many others before him. The persona also continues to have a dissatisfaction of nature’s movements, in ‘a rank wilderness of fern and flower; / she judged the petals in disarray.’ The only facet of nature that seems to please the persona is the season of winter, which she describes as being ‘scrupulously austere in its order / of white and black’; t’s monochromatic characteristics implies a sense of uniform with the reduced components –  ‘ice and rock.’

The third stanza concludes by referring to ‘heart’s frosty discipline / exact as a snowflake’, finally bringing together the two elements of nature and the heart of the persona. The rest of the poem shows the persona’s rationalization of remaining in spinsterhood, and rejecting all men. In the final stanza Plath implements the metaphorical  ‘barricade[s] of barb and check’ that the persona set around her heart – which Plath refers to as her ‘house’ – which ‘no mere insurgent man could hope to break / with curse, fist, threat / or love, either.’ The persona is utterly adamant. She will remain a spinster, and be the master of her own life.

A young Plath on holiday in 1953, three years before meeting her husband Ted Hughes.

A young Plath on holiday in 1953, three years before meeting her husband Ted Hughes.

 

Solitude by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it’s mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

 

My mum has always told me “when you give off positive energy, the universe will give it back to you.” And ‘Solitude’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox – to me – seems to denote this perfectly, along with illustrating the isolation that sadness and internal despair can bring. Wilcox begins by overtly proclaiming her message; ‘Laugh, and the world laughs with you; / weep, and you weep alone.’ It seems to project the idea that the world – at least it seems so – abandons us in the depths of our despair, but supports and encourages us when we ‘laugh’ and are gleeful. Wilcox continues and personifies the Earth, pointing out that it ‘has trouble enough of its own’, and derives happiness from our human happiness; it cannot produce its own joy. Wilcox in this sense provokes our sympathy for the world’s lack of humanity, perhaps pointing out that despite the guarantee of hardship and woe that we are contracted to as human beings, we at least have the capacity to feel, which is something the world as a being does not have.

The second stanza moves on to point out more reasons to be happy and forget our sorrows. Wilcox reveals the consequences of remaining in gloom by escalating from the abandonment of the Earth, to the people in it. She warns that if you ‘grieve, and they turn and go’, ‘they do not need your woe’; ultimately highlighting that – somewhat like the Earth – people have enough problems within their own lives without being made known of yours. The final stanza emphasizes again, that happiness is like a magnet that will mean ‘your halls are crowded’ but sadness is a dire repellent and is an isolator we must all endure; ‘one by one we must all file on / through the narrow aisles of pain.’

 

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)

A Poison Tree by William Blake

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

 

Here in this poem, William Blake warns of the consequences of retaining the vice of hate and voices how feelings brought forth by conflict should be resolved; by presenting the effects of ‘bottled up’ malice through metaphor. Blake highlights how the hate of a ‘foe’ can utterly consume us as opposed to voicing our disappointment with a ‘friend’ who upsets us in some way. The first stanza points out that abandoning communication when angry will only result in more anger in the future; and the speaker does this by using an anecdote of a time when – they say – ‘I was angry with my foe: / I told it not, my wrath did grow.’

The second stanza goes on to reveal the duality that such internal malice can bring about, the speaker ‘watered [their wrath] with fears’ and tears but also ‘sunned it with smiles’; pointing out the extremities such hate can make us feel. This is where the parallel between this contained malice and a poison tree really begins, with Blake depicting wrath as something that can be ‘watered’ and ‘sunned’ and if it is, it will continue to grow to colossal heights and even out of control. If we consider our own personal breadth of emotion to be comparable to the way in which a tree grows, and wrath as the vice that poisons that tree, the third stanza depicts the malicious infection spreading and embedding itself as a part of the body of the tree. The tree is said to ‘grow both day and night, / Till it bore an apple bright’, that the foe wishes to steal and eat as it is property of the speaker. The result of the foe going into the speaker’s metaphorical garden and stealing the apple is an unsettling one for the reader, even more so when the speaker confesses that ‘in the morning glad I see / My foe outstretched beneath the tree.’

The final lines of Blake’s poem hit the reader rather hard with the message that he has taken effort to convey. The speaker has emerged triumphant over their foe but at impossibly high costs; the apple that had grown from the speaker’s hate served to kill the one who ate it. ‘A Poison Tree’ is Blake’s warning to the reader about what such poisoned anger can result in, and such an emotion can inevitably poison our minds if ‘watered’ to grow. Releasing emotions through discussion and conversation is a vital action before they fester into a tragic conclusion for both parties.

 

William Blake (1757-1827)

William Blake (1757-1827)

 

 

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster. 

 

Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’ is a poem of melancholic positivism, showing us that we much learn ‘the art of losing’ if we are to remain strong against the pain it may bring us. In calling losing an art, Bishop perhaps labels it as a valuable virtue, harping to the well-known idea that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ She tells her reader that as loss ‘is no disaster’ if one learns to treat it as such.

The speaker begins to ‘teach’ the reader how to ‘master’ the ‘art of losing’ in the second stanza, instructing them to ‘lose something every day’ and to ‘accept’ that this is a necessary part of life. In referring to losing such trivial items such as keys, Bishop shows us that losing things is as easy as anything and that it happens all the time and to everybody. The speaker then continues to encourage the reader to master the art of losing in the third stanza by expanding from losing physical belongings to losing memories and abstract ideas; ‘places, and names, and where it was you meant / to travel.’ She ends the stanza again by ironically claiming that will also not be a ‘disaster’, again prompting the reader to, in some regards, devalue the things that they lose, whether physical or abstract. The speaker then goes on to tell the reader of their own personal successes in mastering the art of losing. They tell us how they lost their ‘mother’s watch’ and ‘three loved houses’ and then even more significantly ‘two cities’, ‘two rivers, a continent’, the speaker confesses that they miss these things but still insists that this, as well, is not any ‘disaster.’

And finally the speaker addresses the very loss that – we can assume – caused them to put pen to paper in the first instance. Bishop pulls the reader back to the present moment of reality, revealing that she herself has lost someone she loves. By the end of the poem we come to realise that a loss can, in fact, be a disaster. Bishop starts simple and small in the losses of objects like door keys, then progresses to the loss of memory and important information like names and places. She then escalates to very significant items of sentiment, such as the family heirloom of a watch or a home, and then raises the stakes again to fantastical losses such as entire cities, rivers, and continents. Bishop ultimately realises that the loss of  love ‘may look [and feel] like…a disaster’, not that it is a disaster.

 

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

 

Words by Anne Sexton

Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren’t good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair.

 

Now, this is another poem that deals with duality; and the ways in which something can be our metaphorical ‘best friend’, but also our very worst ‘enemy.’ Words are such a funny thing, though abstract in themselves they are arguably the most powerful force in humanity and Sexton’s poem serves as an anecdotal warning to ‘be careful of words’ and their delicate nature. Sexton spends most of this poem drawing attention to how amazing words are, despite their dangers; using natural imagery to highlight how words surround us day by day. They can be as ‘trusty’ as rocks and can be ‘the trees, the legs of summer’, they ‘swarm like insects’ all around us and have come to be as easily as the natural world we live in. In drawing parallels between words and nature, we are encouraged to think about the innate essence of language and our astonishing ability to learn and use it from the onset of our lives.

But despite this beautiful facet of words, Sexton ensures to highlight their dangerous capability. She proclaims ‘yet often they fail me’ and the ‘wrong ones kiss me’, which somewhat implies that we are in some ways the victims of language; the wrong words come to us, we do not come to them, we do not kiss them. But Sexton and so many others are ‘in love with words’ and are something ‘holy’ to us and so it is impossible for us to refrain from using them, and perhaps this in itself is the very danger that Sexton is drawing our attention to. If we cannot stop ourselves from using the simultaneously precarious and beautiful thing that is language, we must be prepared to face consequences that resemble either ‘daisies’ or ‘bruises.’ The final lines of Sexton’s ‘Words’ are really definitive: Words and eggs must be handled with care. / Once broken they are impossible / things to repair’, language is to be treated with respect and care, for it can be both the making of us, but also the undoing.

Anne Sexton (1928-1974)

Anne Sexton at her home in Massachusetts